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Día de Viaje

Travel Day

overcast 9 °C

Today we started early, very early, 6:30 am pick-up to head back towards Santiago and catch our 10:30 am flight to Punta Arenas. Doesn't sound that bad but given last night we stumbled across the best little pizza place and returned to our cute little hotel on Happy Hill (that was the name of the neighbourhood we stayed in) to finish "just one more glass of wine" it seemed very, very early. The hotel we stayed at was a darling boutique establishment that once had been a house, now a lodge with only a handful of rooms it had tons of character but very creaky, noisy floors. Add to the sounds of an old house the sounds of stray dogs (who sleep all day and talk to each other all night) and the result is a pretty restless evening with very little actual sleep.

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Fortunately I am one of those people that can sleep on planes, so after a couple hours of shut eye during our 3+ hour flight I felt quasi human again. Punta Arenas (Sandy Point in English) is near the tip of Chile's southernmost Patagonia region. Located on the Strait of Magellan, which connects the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, it is used as a base for those exploring Patagonia or Antartica. Historically it was an important stop for explorers and has a memorial to explorer Ferdinand Magellan, and the Museo Nao Victoria features a replica of one of his galleons. Today tourists and trekking enthusiasts have replaced sailors.

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We arrived at 2 pm and headed straight to our hotel the Jose Nigeria, which once was a mansion occupied by Joe Nigeria and Sara Braun. Both individuals were prominent figures in Punta Arenas's history. The town is far more developed (common theme for Chile, it feels very much like North America) and while quaint the town doesn't have the small tourist feel I thought it would (it is not a Banff or Jasper).

We immediately dropped our bags and headed to the bar downstairs in our hotel, named for Ernest Shackleton. It was here in Punta Arenas he planned two bids to retrieve his trapped men. We have the pleasure of traveling with a bit of a history buff with respect to Shackleton so it was a must do to have lunch and a drink in the Shackleton Bar.

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After a snack we headed out and wandered around the small town to the famous cementery,, ranked by CNN as one of the most beautiful in the world (odd and useless fact) before heading back to the hotel to put our feet before finding dinner. It should be noted it is a drying out day, it is almost 7 pm and we are yet to have a glass of wine! The weather here is noticeably cooler than where we have been around 9 degrees and I am pleased with my packing of a toque, rain coat and hoodie.

Hoping for some sleep tonight tomorrow we have the morning at leisure (where I am hoping to get a run along the Strait of Magellan in) and then board our boat at 3 pm for our week off the grid sailing around some of the southern most parts of the world. My goal is to blog as I normally do (which may be challenging without being able to google questions that arise) and load them when I return to the land of wifi.

So until next time (and I have no idea when that will be),
G^2

Posted by imalazyj 13:15 Archived in Chile

We are the Millers or Molineros

sunny 29 °C

I have to stop starting the blogs with what day it, first because they are starting to blur together (and yes it is likely due to the fact we are single handily boosting the Chile wine industry) and second my wifi access is limited and my roaming charges are obscene already (sorry Kevin).

Today (Thursday, February 16) we headed out of Santa Cruz to Valparaiso and Viña del Mar, coastal towns northwest of Santiago. We drove ~350 km through the rolling hills and vineyards, through San Antonio, Chile's largest port (and we can vouch for the thousands of containers) into a charming city situation on the hills. Today's travel day solidifed my first impression, Chile is very well developed versus Peru and Ecuador (or at least where we were in them). The highways are every bit as good as home, very little litter and everyone has good infrastructure (water, power etc). You could easily rent a car and travel through this country on your own.

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We rolled into town right around lunch time, checked into our cute boutique hotel (where we all got dubbed the Millers and now the ladies both want to be Jennifer Aniston) and waddled down the hill to source some food (and wine of course). Today's fare was ceviche for me (the seafood and lime here are amazing while the rest of the group embraced the Chilean love of sandwiches), yum!

After some adding some fuel to our bellies we met our local guide off for a tour of the area. We started in Viña del Mar the coastal resort city northwest of Santiago, Chile. It’s known for its gardens, beaches and high-rise buildings (think of it like Invermere to Calgary only instead of a lake it has an ocean). A brief stop to confirm there are sea lions in the area and witness the odd sand dunes (really sand that blows up and covers the bedrock) we continued on to see the only Moai outside Easter Island that was purportdly gifted (and not stolen, either way it saved us a trip to Easter Island)).

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From Viña del Mar we continued along the shore front to Valparaiso, Greater Valparaíso is the second largest metropolitan area in the country. Valparaiso played an important geopolitical role in the second half of the 19th century, when the city served as a major stopover for ships traveling between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans by crossing the Straits of Magellan. Valparaíso mushroomed during its golden age, as a magnet for European immigrants, when the city was known by international sailors as "Little San Francisco" and "The Jewel of the Pacific". In 2003, the historic quarter of Valparaíso was declared a United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site.

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It is one of the most unique places I have ever seen (colours and hills of Cinque Terre, streets like San Fransisco and graffiti/murals everywhere). It is bursting with colour and the streets are narrow, steep and cobblestone. Our guide was a local girl born and raised in the city and was fantastic. We bombed around the city, poking our head in interesting buildings and even rode one of the 9 Veniculars still in operation.

We are now reflecting on our day, sipping a Sav Blanc (local of course) and staring out at the Pacific Ocean listening to the dogs bark (there are a lot of stray dogs in this country and I mean a lot (1 or 2 per block). We are still trying to wrap our heads around the fact that minimum wage is $400/month and a good salary is $2,400/month (USD) but the standard of living seems relatively high (few homeless, no one is pushy towards tourists, cleanliness etc). I am hoping I have more time in the next few days to contemplate this.

Okay, we are hungry (but just finished two bottles of amazing Sav Blanc) so off to source some food.

Until next time,
G^2

Posted by imalazyj 14:56 Archived in Chile

Agradecido

sunny 29 °C

Happy belated Valentine's Day! We were so wrapped up in Vino Tinto we kind of forgot it was Valentine's Day until we went out for dinner last night. Our travel mates found a fantastic Italian place just down the road from our hotel. After a little charades we learned it was a set menu with wine pairings (good for us that aren't fluent in Spanish limits the risk of ordering something really odd). The meal was fantastic and the wine even more so (I am not sure we will ever find a wine we don't like...). The culture here eats late (the restaurant opened at 8 pm) I think due to the heat.

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As we merrily strolled (wine pairings plus another bottle will make anyone merry) we happened upon a festival with live music in the park across from our hotel. It was really a fantastic and unique experience. So many people (entire families) out enjoy the music at 11 pm on Tuesday (it is summer here and holiday time). The vendors serving food would not pass Health Canada at anytime though, open flames, unmanned, it was a very unique and fun experience.

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We concluded our evening with, wait, yup, you guessed it. A bottle of wine!

Today was a free day on our own in Santa Cruz. Purposefully planned as we usually crash on the third day due to the travel and excitement of the first couple days. Today was no exception and we all enjoyed a lazy morning.

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Our travel mates found an amazing little winery down the road, so we actually waddled (we haven't been doing much other than eat and drink) 15-20 minutes from our hotel and had the most surreal tasting complete with a magnificent charcuterie board. We waddled back towards our hotel and stopped for lunch (because we were sobering up, can't have that) and again our lack of Spanish resulted in a comical game of charades (result meant no one got the beer they wanted but we all got the wine I wanted, worked for me).

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The afternoon consisted of a little R'n'R by the pool (maybe a brief siesta) plus brief run in the hot hood (which I got lost what did we do before Google Map?). We even snuck in a workout in the hotel gym (pretty sparse but Ger and I actually brought some bands with us in hopes we would might actually use them (check that box off!)).

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The day concluded with a walk through town (and the festival again this time the musical act featured Frozen & Disney) to a cute little local place where we tried Chupe. It is hard to describe the local dish, the best we came up with is Risotto with different ingredients (our sampling had King Crab, Seaweed, Mushrooms & Quinoa), it was different but very tasty (or similar to Newfoundland Fish & Brewis). We of course paired it with some Carmanere (we love Chile!).

I wish we could say we concluded the evening after another stroll through the festival but we had to take down one last solider (the boys kept buying bottles at the tastings and we can't fly with them...) and reflect on our amazing day in Santa Cruz. Tomorrow we head out bright and early to Valparasio and the coast of Chile.

Until next time,
G^2

Posted by imalazyj 14:05 Archived in Chile

Buen día

Vino Blanco, Vino Tinto, Si Si

sunny 29 °C

As our traveling buddy Mr. Molinero exclaimed this morning it is hard to decipher whether this is Day Two or Day Three, I am going with Day Two. As predicted last evening the Molineros did not make it out so Ger and I tackled the city for dinner alone. First stop, was a grocery store to source some water (thank you Ms. Gray for making this a habit of mine now as well). Turns out Ger and I suck at Spanish and while we tried very hard to get water with out bubbles, it turns out Aqua con air means gas, we can cross brushing one's teeth with sparkling water off the bucket list.

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We stumbled (thank you Yelp) onto a Peruvian restaurant that served Causa, something we discovered on our last trip to SA and loved. Causa is served cold as a starter, or as a light meal, it is a seasoned mashed potato terrine, stuffed with tuna (chicken in this case), egg, and avocado. We followed that with the first fish dinner (likely of many I think), Salmon and Chilean Sea Bass. Yum Yum. The avocado in this country is amazing, so much more flavourful than what we can get a home. The evening ended with a bottle of wine (shocking I know) and of course a Pisco Sour. The Pisco Sour is a classic SA cocktail (there is significant debate over whether it originates in Peru or Chile). Pisco is a brandy produced in winemaking regions of Peru and Chile. Made by distilling fermented grape juice into a high-proof spirit, it was developed by 16th century Spanish settlers as an alternative to orujo, a pomace brandy that was being imported from Spain. The Pisco Sour includes lemon juice, egg whites and simple syrup and is very tasty (and very potent). A fantastic cap to the day.

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Today we were met at 8am for our journey to the Colchagua Valley. The region is one of 15 in Chile. Regions are the country's first-level administrative division. Each region is headed by an intendant (intendente), appointed by the President, and an indirectly elected body known as regional board (consejo regional). More importantly though the Colchagua Valley is known for it's perfect climate to grow red wine grapes, namely, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Carmenere, Malbec, and Syrah. The country itself has over 20 grape varieties, with the more delicate grapes (white and Pinot Noir) being grown in areas closer to the ocean and the hardier reds closer to the Andes. Chile has experienced explosive growth in their wineries growing from 12 in 1995 to over 70 by the mid-2000s.

Our first stop was Casa Silva, one of the most awarded Chilean Winery of the 21st century at International and National competitions, The family has been dedicated to the wine business for five generations, making it the most traditional winery in the Colchagua Valley. The tasting was 4 wines (one white and three reds (the Cab Sav was the fan favourite)), it was also here we first encountered a very interesting couple, a woman who literally had travelled the world (Churchill twice, every country in SA at least twice some 4 or 5 times) and her husband, imagine Martin Prince from the Simpsons (google it) minus this gentleman was 70ish and did not ask questions like he was intelligent. The oddest couple and we felt so blessed not to be traveling with them.

After a full tour and a tasting (Carmenere was our favourite here) we continued on to Santa Cruz for lunch. Santa Cruz is our base for the next couple of nights and is about 160 km south of Santiago in central Chile. A charming tourist town (30,000 people live here) reminds me a bit of Niagara on the Lake.

The drive out of Santiago was fascinating, flanked but mountains on both sides with a look and feel very similar to my hometown of Kamloops. Chile is far more developed than I had expected. We did not witness any shanty towns or extreme poverty (unlike leaving Lima in Peru). We traveled down a very nice stretch of the Pan American Highway or Route 5 as it is known here.

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For lunch we tried another SA dish, Pastel de choclo ('corn pastel') based on sweetcorn or choclo (our limited (non-existent) Spanish meant accidentally ordered two appetizers that were actually mains followed by more mains (even though the head waiter tried to politely confirm (i.e. are you crazy?) it made for a very hearty lunch). Next stop was Montes, a large Chilean winery with 4 estates in Chile. It was a beautiful spot and followed a dry farming model. What is dry farming? A sustainable approach to grape growing, designed to reduce the water required to a minimum. Strategies include planting the vines strategically (hillside grapes get less water) and maintaining the vines canopy (aka height) to a minimum.

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One more tasting of another 4 wines (the Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir were the fan favourites here), and guess who showed up to join us? Our favourite couple, some of the favourite moments included Martin Prince telling our guide the wines were the wrong temperatures, another fan favourite was "it is hard to find Pinot Noir in the USA (thank goodness they claimed 'merica as their motherland) followed by "California doesn't have good wines".

Following one more silent "thank goodness we aren't travelling with them" we were off to our hotel for the evening. The hotel is an odd complex, it has a Casino, a Museum, a pool, a spa... and of course a bar (or two). We are now sitting in the shade by the pool sipping another Pisco Sour. Life is good or la vida es buena.

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Tomorrow is a day of leisure in Santa Cruz, which means we likely do a wine tour or tour and eat some more local faire.

Until next time,
G^2

Posted by imalazyj 13:49 Archived in Chile

Buen viaje

sunny 29 °C

Disclaimer: don't judge me (or do I don't care) by the missed words and spelling mistakes, I try and I am sorry, I know I am not a literally genius and I generally pen these entries after a couple "beverages"... read and get annoyed at your own risk.

Travel day(s) = 36 hours or so. We were scheduled to leave Calgary at 1:30 pm (on Feb 12) but due to a massive snow storm in Toronto our departure was delayed until 4pmish (sign up for the flight departure text message notifications, saves you wasted time at the airport). Fortunately, we had a pretty big layover in Toronto so the delay in Calgary caused no stress, plus our Santiago flight was also delayed an hour (Mother Nature is really unpredictable) so at the end of the day it meant we watched the Grammys (Gaga & Metallica!) in the Toronto AC lounge (there are far worst travel hiccups). We finally boarded our overnight leg just before 1 am and I think I was asleep by 2 am (real prescription sleeping pills are your friend on long-haul flights, frown and judge upon me as you may). I slept right through the night, woke two hours before landing (time for a freshen up, change of clothes and breakfast) and we hit the ground running (we landed at 1 pm, Santiago is UTC - 03:00 or in simple terms 4 hours ahead of Calgary.)

Our guide met us at the airport, zipped us to our hotel and gave us 30 minutes for a quick change of attire (it was 29 degrees) after which we set off for a walking tour of Santiago. Background, Chile has a population of ~18mm and is a long narrow strip of land between the Andes to the West and the Pacific Ocean to the West. It hosts some of the best skiing/snowboarding in the world and at the same time some of the best surfing. 35% of the country's population lives in Santiago (you can do the math). Santiago is smack dab in the middle of the country, 4 hours to the northern tip, 4 hours to the southern tip.

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The native population were the Incas and Mapuche, until the Spanish arrived. Chile was discovered by the Spanish in 1520 and by 1540 Chile was part of the Spanish Empire. Santiago is the Capital of Chile and the largest city in Chile. Santiago was founded by the Spanish in 1541 and has been the Capital since Colonial times. When you fly in, you can't help but notice the majestic mountains to the East (not kidding, think Rockies) and the Pacific Ocean to the West. It is incredible, you could literally snowboard in the morning and surf in the afternoon. Here is a really useless tidbit, Chile's flag is a red, white and blue banner with a white star. The blue square in the canton region of the flag represents the sky and the Pacific Ocean, the white stripe represents the snow of the Andes mountains, and the red symbolizes the blood that was spilled fighting for freedom. Brain dump, Chile has the highest nominal GDP in South America. Chile's biggest GDP contributor, agriculture (fruits & veggies (grapes, apples, nectarines and the more recently important Avocado). Chile achieves its competitive advantage due to its position in the Southern Hemisphere which leads to an agricultural season cycle opposite to those of the principal consumer markets, primarily located in the Northern Hemisphere (it produces food when we in the the frozen north want it). Next, salmon, Chile is the second biggest exporter of salmon in the world (Norway (I think) is first). Forestry and Wine are the next biggest contributors with tourism rounding out the top 5 GDP contributors.

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Our guide called Santiago the "city of contrast", once you start walking you quickly understand why with its charming old colonial buildings set against modern skyscrapers. We spent the afternoon wandering past the fantastic old government buildings, central parks and markets before succumbing to the need for food and drink (maybe drink should have been first, let's just go with substance, we needed something). Local gastronomic faire includes fish (Chilean Sea Bass, King Crab, Avocado) and wine, cheap and plentiful, Chile and I are going to get along just fine.

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We stopped finally at 5:30 pm for a snack and cocktail (which quickly turned into a two bottles of wine, Carménère (which is like to Chile what Malbec is to Argentina)) and are now resting in our room before heading out for one last snack and cocktail for the day (it remains to be seen if we actually make it out of the room, the rest of the travellers (J&K & Big Ger did not sleep as long as I did). Tomorrow we head out a 8 am to Santa Cruz, a town in central Chile's Colchagua Valley (famous for Carménère it's wines).

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First impressions, Santiago feels like a typical, large, metropolitan city . It is clean, sophisticated and easy (safe) to walk around. Santiago has a beautiful subway system (really, really clean with amazing murals). And while it has big city traffic it felt no worse than Toronto (bear in mind we are here in February which is akin to Canadian July where everyone is on holidays as it is the middle of their summer). While we don't have much time here right now we do have a couple more days at the end of this adventure to further explore Santiago and Chilean history.

So, in a nutshell, a good first 36 hours, off to eat another snack (and more importantly more wine) and out tomorrow to see some of this long (4,300 km long), narrow (350 km) country.

Until next time,
G^2

Posted by imalazyj 14:05 Archived in Chile

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